Daughter's Hotel Room Death Ignited a Mother's Quest for Answers

Kelly Osborn does not believe her daughter, Sheena Morris, committed suicide.

BySean Dooley, Alyssa Pry and Alexa Valiente
October 17, 2013, 3:03 PM
PHOTO: Four years after her daughter's death, Kelly Osborn is still searching for answers, determined to prove Sheena Morris' death was not a suicide.
Four years after her daughter's death, Kelly Osborn is still searching for answers, determined to prove Sheena Morris' death was not a suicide.
Courtesy of Kelly Osborn

Oct. 18, 2013 — -- Nearly five years after her daughter's death was ruled a suicide, Kelly Osborn is still searching for answers.

The 50-year-old Florida mother spends every ounce of her free time trying to uncover what really happened in the hotel room where her daughter, Sheena Morris, 22, was found by police hanging in the shower.

"She was my only daughter, so she was everything to me," Osborn told ABC News' "20/20."

Bradenton Beach Police officers found Morris dead in the hotel room in Bradenton Beach, Fla., where she had been staying with her fiance, Joseph Genoese, on Dec 31, 2008.

On a New Year's Eve, Morris and Genoese had dinner at the restaurant across the street from their hotel and then returned to their room.

After midnight the couple got into a heated argument, and guests in the room next door called 911. When police arrived they passed Genoese, who was leaving. In the room, they found Morris and her two dogs but, according to police reports, she would not elaborate on their fight.

Police left that night without writing up a report.

The next day, Genoese said he tried calling Morris but was unable to reach her. He called her mother, Osborn, and told her the two had fought the night before and he was having trouble getting a hold of her.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel in Bradenton Beach, management had already called police to evict Morris from the hotel because of a zero tolerance policy for domestic incidents. When police entered the room they found Morris hanging dead in the shower with one of her dog leashes around her neck.

"Getting a notification like that is ... physically and mentally, the worst, most horrifying event you could have in your life," Osborn said.

With no signs of a struggle in the room and no obvious injuries to Morris' body, Bradenton Beach Det. Lenard Diaz quickly ruled her death a suicide, a ruling that Osborn has never accepted.

A Mother Becomes Doubtful About Her Daughter's Cause of Death

Osborn said her daughter was hardly someone on the verge of suicide. In the days prior to her death, Morris renewed a magazine subscription, left a rent check and renewed her AAA membership for a year, according to Osborn.

Determined to prove Morris' death was not a suicide, Osborn put her real estate career on hold and started her own investigation, beginning with one of the last people to see Morris alive: her fiance, Genoese.

"I was told he was 35 when I first met him," Osborn recalled. "And so the minute I laid eyes on him, I said, 'You are not 35.'"

Morris was just 20 when she first met Genoese, who was 42 at the time. Friends say the May-December romance was stormy from the start.

"She wasn't the type of person to back down," Morris' friend, Rena Carideo, told "20/20." "He clearly wasn't the type of person to back down, so they butt heads more often than not."

Three days after Morris' death, Osborn spoke to Genoese alone in her garage.

"This isn't over. Sheena didn't commit suicide," Osborn recalled saying. "You can make this as easy or as hard on me, and yourself, as you would like."

Genoese submitted some of his personal records to Osborn, including his toll pass records. He told police that he went home after leaving Morris at the hotel, but there was no record of him using his pass on his drive home.

"It doesn't show him coming back," Osborn said.

So, she said, she wonders if Genoese ever really went home that night.

From Real Estate Agent to Investigator

Osborn has spent nearly five years collecting evidence, including police reports, 911 call transcripts, autopsy results and crime scene photos.

She studied hundreds of other suicides, looking for patterns. One common theme she found was the presence of drugs and alcohol, but her daughter's autopsy showed that Morris' alcohol level was below the legal limit and there no drugs were in her system.

Osborn also studied her daughter's autopsy photos, looking for clues.

"Sheena and I, we wore the same mascara," Osborn said. "I knew that ... if you cry with this mascara on, that mascara just clumps up, your eyelashes are all clumped up and ... hers were perfect."

Experts say one would expect to see tears in a suicide of this kind.

Lee Williams, a veteran crime reporter who has covered this case extensively, said he also saw something that made it impossible to believe Morris killed herself.

"There's a photo of Sheena in the shower," Williams told "20/20." "Her feet are caked with sand and debris, yet there's no debris on the white floor, on the shower or on the white floor of the bathroom immediately outside the shower."

"Either Sheena was carried in there, post mortem and hung, or she somehow levitated into that room," Williams said.

Osborn was eventually able to have three independent forensic experts examine all the evidence and all three came to the same conclusion: Morris' death was not a suicide. To them, that hotel room appeared to be a staged crime scene. Armed with three affidavits from those experts, Osborn met with the medical examiner, who then reclassified Morris' manner of death as "undetermined pending further investigation."

Last October, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement decided that the case needed to be re-opened.

A Fiance With Nothing to Hide

Almost five years after the death of his fiance, Genoese said he was a victim too.

"I'm being victimized because I cared about someone," Genoese, who is now 49, told "20/20."

Genoese welcomed the new investigation, because he insisted he had nothing to hide.

"I have people that saw me that night," Genoese said. "What would be my motive?"

The image of his relationship with Morris, painted by her friends and family, Genoese said, is not a true one. In fact, Morris was often depressed around the time of her death, according to Genoese.

The reinvestigation into Morris' death is ongoing and a decision on whether to uphold the Bradenton Beach Police Department's original suicide ruling or classify the death a homicide and bring charges against a suspect is expected soon.

Osborn believes the question is already settled.

"When there's a trial and the jury finds the suspect guilty," Osborn said, "that chapter will be over."

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